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Richmond small business owner kickstarts neighborhood party to boost childhood literacy

on September 28, 2018

Reading is a struggle for many of Richmond’s youth. Almost half of students in West Contra Costa County Unified School District are unable to read at grade level.  

To boost reading in Richmond, the owners of R&R Coffee hosted a party on Monday for local families at the Bridge Storage and Artspace, where food and books were given away.

Family friends Taneia Perry (left), Marche Wade (middle) and Keandra Forte (right), who live walking distance from Bridge Storage and Artspace, attended the event and collected some freebies. Bo Tefu/Richmond Confidential 

It was “like an adventure” for her children, said Richmond mom Sherab Osugi. She said the party made her children, five-year-old Ronan Carroll and three-year-old Naomi Carroll, “excited about books.”

That’s difficult to achieve, she said, because, “there’s this temptation, as parents, to introduce technology and to use it much more than reading.”

The book drive, which drew crowds of families and friends, was the first annual event hosted by Phillip and Kim Mitchell. The small business owners hosted it at their R&R coffee shop, a modest open space at the entrance of the artspace. For her, it was a way of trying to support literacy for the children of the city where she was raised and where the coffee shop she founded with her husband a little over a year ago has flourished.

Mother of two, Sherab Osugi (middle) attended the family-friendly event with her children (Ronan Carroll, 5, and Naomi Carroll,3, Monday afternoon. Osugi found out about the event from a Facebook post shared by city council election candidate David Schoenthal. Bo Tefu/Richmond Confidential 

“At this stage in my life, I just want to give back in any small way that we can,” Phillip Mitchell said. “We want to give people Richmond hospitality, which is warm and inclusive, not just service.”

Phillip Mitchell was in the restaurant industry for 15 years before deciding to branch out on his own. He started out as a dishwasher and worked his way up to be an executive kitchen manager for a chain restaurant before opening R&R coffee shop.

His passion for the service industry sparked his desire to give back to the community in a meaningful way. That led to the book party where the Mitchells gave away free food and free books. Party staples, such as hot dogs, crisps and fruit juice, were served at the event.

“We just want to make sure that children are fed and getting a boost in their education,” he said.

Mitchell said the initiative was important because childhood literacy and childhood hunger go hand-in-hand.

“Someone with an empty belly couldn’t learn as much as they could on a full belly,” he said.

Ronan (left) and Naomi (right) show off the yummy treats they got for free at the event. Bo Tefu/Richmond Confidential 
A collection of books that were up for grabs for attendees at the event. The free books varied from bilingual Spanish books to the Black Panther comics, which was the most popular among the children. Bo Tefu/Richmond Confidential 

His wife says it is important for members of the community to look out for one another in order to thrive.

“If a community is gonna thrive, you have to take care of young people and make sure they have the tools they need to keep the community growing,” she said.

Literacy test results paint a worrisome picture of elementary schools in Richmond. Seventy-five percent of students at Stege Elementary School could not read at their grade level in 2017, according to Smarter Balanced test results, from the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress. That school had the highest proportion of students unable to read at grade level in the city. Olinda Elementary School fared the best in Richmond, with 21 percent of students unable to read at grade level, according to the assessment results.

The test results showed that 42 percent of students in the West Contra Costa school district couldn’t read at grade level last year.

Statewide, 28 percent of students were unable to read at grade level.

Among those at Monday’s book party was Marche Wade, 12, an avid reader of the popular book series “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” So, too, was Taneia Perry, a family friend of Wade’s whose favorite author growing up was Dr. Seuss.

Perry said she believed reading was important because, “books will help the children stay in school and learn to love it.”

Phillip Mitchell said he chose to give away books that were so entertaining they would, “make the kids want to read.”

The books ranged from Black Panther comics to bilingual books such as “500 Palabras Nuevas Para Ti,” the Spanish equivalent of “500 Words To Grow On,” to help children expand their vocabulary.

“We try do whatever it takes to get a child to open a book,” he said.

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